Tracey Spicer speaks at TEDx in Brisbane.

Tracey Spicer speaks at TEDx in Brisbane. Photo: via YouTube

"It’s bullsh-t," Tracey Spicer announced of the time spent by women on personal grooming during her 15-minute TEDx talk 'The Lady Stripped Bare'.

Speaking in Brisbane in December, the self-professed "vain fool" reckoned  that it was high time women pushed back against artificial social strictures  and reassessed their beauty routines.

"Imagine all the things we could achieve if we didn’t conform to society’s unreasonable expectations of how we should look; our increased levels of productivity, whether in the workplace or the home, and our satisfaction at being who we really are, not some advertising ideal,” Spicer told the audience.

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Detailing her own grueling transformation from ‘natural self’ to ‘television presenter self’, Spicer admitted she is often up and running by 6am “… even though no-one is chasing me with an axe – but to maintain a professionally acceptable Size 10”.

And her mornings continue, bound slavishly to the bathroom mirror: “Slather body in petroleum by-product… Cleanse face. Add alcohol-based toner….Increase the paraben load with eye cream… Put straightening gel in hair… Start to feel like the Gulf of Mexico after the BP oil spill. But I can’t stop.” 

That’s thousands of hours of blow drying and exfoliating. 

“For women, it works out at 3276 hours over a lifetime; men only devote 1092 hours, about a third of the time. 

“In that time we could complete a pre-MBA course at Oxford Business School, become proficient at a musical instrument or even learn another language,” she says with a resigned  laugh. 

But it does not end there. While plucking and preening away precious hours women are actually damaging, not boosting, their earning potential, according to Spicer’s research. 

Referring to data from the American Time Use survey, she explains that for women grooming time signals negative, rather than positive, worker attributes – and decreases earnings considerably. 

“If a woman doubles her grooming time, her earnings decrease on average 3.4 per cent. That’s because it’s a non-market activity, like time spent doing the housework (which we know women already do the bulk of).” 

In Spicer’s opinion, a movement of change begins with many small steps. Illustrating the point by removing her makeup, high heels and tight dress to audience whoops and cheers, she poses three key questions:  

Why does society expect this of us? 

Will this make me happier and healthier? 

And, is there a better way of doing it? 

“It’ll take time to remove all these layers of expectation. There will be periods of backlash,” Spicer concludes. “But if we resist society’s pressure to create an unrealistic image of ourselves, we’ll be happier, healthier and more productive.”

The refreshingly candid presentation is worthy viewing, both for the insight Spicer provides (having weathered a career in television), and for the angle she takes on beauty - it would be nice if we could all agree on becoming less high maintenance.